Tuesday, July 3, 2012


“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
T. Bert (Thomas Bertram) Lance,
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
in Jimmy Carter's 1977 administration

I damned near threw my i-Pad through the third floor window of the Hyatt Hotel at the Denver airport last night.  Following a week in the Rockies without connecting to the Internet, I found myself receiving e-mails, only one of which was critical enough to deserve an answer.  I composed something succinct and pushed send.  After thirty seconds, a message appeared telling me that the “my server” was not authorized to relay messages.  Huh?  In any circumstance other than those technological, “my server” serves me.

I carry a basic cell phone in my pocket.  My current model, made by Samsung – highly rated by those other than me – has a button on the front of the closed face that, when pushed, shuts off external button functions.  The problem is, when I drop the phone in a pocket, change or keys or whatever else in there, repushes that external control thereby reactivating the buttons.  Soon, the ringer is drubbed down to silent so I miss any incoming calls and the flashlight function is activated making it appear that one of the nickels in my pocket is cast out of weapons grade plutonium.  I’ve been told I need to check for upgrades.  I don’t want to check for upgrades.  I want my phone to ring on the chance occasion that someone wishes to contact me.  Nothing more.

A week or two ago, we used Netflix to rent a Blu-Ray DVD of a recently released film.  Subsequent to twenty minutes of previews and ads, we expected to see the movie.  No such luck.  All we saw was the wheel that gives the optical illusion of the viewer spinning in space.  We sent the DVD back requesting another copy.  Same deal.  Turns out, in order to prevent piracy, the film is encrypted on the disk and my 18-month-old Blu-Ray player is unable to access the film without an upgrade.  I’m paying how much per month for this “service?”

I own a Mac that I like a lot.  I use it mainly for writing, storage of photos, posting to my blog and to various motorcycle forums, sending and receiving e-mails and a little bit of comparison shopping.  Although others are able to do so, my Mac is unable to post i-Photo pictures to the motorcycle forum boards.  I have read and reread the instructions and am still unable to do it.  The help menu works up until they drop in the first acronym.  Although back in high school I never “pantsed” one in the locker room or cafeteria, the geeks are exacting their revenge.

I, for one, am damned tired of technology that sets an expectation and then falls short of delivering it.  I am tired of being told that technology is in its infancy.  I am tired of security measures being put in place that make access to the advertised function unachievable.  But mainly, I am tired of being a fairly intelligent, reasonably literate, more-than-marginally competent human being who feels stupid because something that should be simple – something that should be intuitive – is not. 

Too frequently, in the name of innovation, we improve on products with solid performance until they don’t work any more.  Perhaps this is because “they” always want to market the next big idea or push the next best thing or sell the next product as “new and improved” – marketing’s most over-taxed phrase.  Lipstick on the Mona Lisa, I would opine.

Making or receiving a phone call, creating a document and passing it through cyberspace, sharing a photo: all of these should, by now, be as easy as turning on a faucet (clockwise on, counter-clockwise off – or is it the other way around?), pedaling a bicycle (once you learn how to do it, it doesn’t change), or merging onto a freeway (outside of rush hour).  Smooth.

If technology creates more frustration than it provides solutions then it does not improve our lives.  And frankly, under those circumstances, I’d rather be walking a beach or mountain trail, motorcycling on a back road, or blasted back into the 19th century. 

Please, don’t call me a Luddite: just make the damned product work.  And once it does, don’t fix it.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. You nailed it on the head. But, you sound exactly like your brother. Have you thrown a piece of technology down, or slammed it on the table in order to get it to work? Those are the next steps to "technological insanity." Watch out!

  2. grow up and stop complaining

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    Sorry you missed the humor intended in this little piece. Perhaps you are a software engineer?

    Seriously, we are clearly much better off because of technological innovation. Our air is cleaner. Our ability to communicate is greatly enhanced. Knowledge is much more easily accessible. And along the way, we are probably saving a bunch of trees.

    What is intuitive for some may not be quite as intuitive for others - and this may be where the crux of the issue rests. Folks immersed in big ideas with a field of endeavor, may sometimes find it difficult to understand that others cannot share the depth of their skill or interest. Perhaps this is why people decry education spending (because we only usually hear of the waste), gasoline prices (because we don't "get" the underlying costs for exploration and extraction), and government (because we are not privy to all of the elements needing care - only those that relate to us.) Folks engineering tech stuff probably have enhanced thinking the average among us doesn't seem to have. That's okay.

    On balance, I would certainly not wish to return to a time when medical practices fell short of saving lives because we lack the technology to intervene. Nor would I want to return to the smoke signal.

    I would like these magical devices to better match my way of thinking - and the only way to accomplish that is to change my way of thinking.

  4. ...and then the electronic hatch door of the Lincoln SUV begins a chain reaction which results in the Alpha not-so-smart ending up in the shrubs...sheesh!

  5. Ironic, since the Alpha-Smart is one piece of technology that does exactly what it is purported to do. Nothing more, But more importantly: nothing less.

  6. Unload that iFart crap and pay less for Android. Works for me.
    Seriously though, the problem is complicated. Video pirates have made the DVD players a problem. Software people copyright a one click picture sharing solution, and your brand isn't allowed to do it. A hardware manufacturer puts on a phone "lock" button, and you aren't allowed to have it. (apple shut down Samsung tablet sales in Germany just because the Samsung tablet looked like... yes... A tablet)

    So thanks to companies like Apple, we will never have everything in one device.
    And thanks to email spammers, servers may not serve you if they can't be sure about your network connection path.

  7. After reviewing many comments from this and other sources, it is abundantly clear that technology is not the gremlin. It is the user interface and the clarity of the explanations that provide the user with a route to a solution.

    When the average Joe Blow such as myself is confronted by a disconnect and the description of the work-around is not (Unfortunately) lowest-common-denominator-level logic, frustration sets in. The first acronym thrown into the conversation can throw one for a loop. (The day after this post was posted, that hiccup was an ".FRM" for the DVD issue that, if it downloaded, I sure couldn't find it.)

    Not particularly a problem with the science or the physics - rather one of language.

    Folks in the tech community sometimes fall short in translating solutions to the less techie masses regardless of whether the system is Apple or PC or something else. This is a communication rift that needs to be worked on.

    No one to blame, but still it is quite frustrating when a job needs to be accomplished and something about the user-hardware or user-software interface is not fully understood by said user.

    Then again, sometimes the design is just flat wrong. Lifespan of such product is limited by market-evolution's survival of the fittest.